How to run a 100% paperless business

How to run a 100% paperless business [PMP #253]

Since day 1, I’ve been running my business 100% paperless; meaning I don’t keep any physical files or paperwork. Everything is captured and stored digitally. I could literally work from anywhere as I always have all the information I might need with me wherever I am.

It’s incredibly liberating when you remove physical clutter from your surroundings and it’s empowering to know that all the information I need to run my business is stored online. I also find it more efficient to find documents and notes when I need to recall them.

I do the same in my personal life and literally, the only paper documents I have to keep are our marriage certificate, birth certificates and my New Zealand citizenship certificate which I can’t get rid of (unfortunately).

In this post, I’d like to list some of the tools and techniques I use to run my business 100% paperless.

Don’t want to read this post? Listen to the podcast instead:

Paperless tools

First, let’s look at some of the tools you need to run a paperless business:

Cloud Storage » An online cloud storage tool like Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive is one of, if not the most important tool you need to run a paperless business. Because I run my business from a Mac, I use iCloud Drive for my personal and business file storage. Which one you choose to use doesn't matter too much. If you use Microsoft for your email, use OneDrive. If you use Google Mail, use Google Drive. Don’t overthink it.

Think of your cloud storage as a digital filing cabinet. Here’s a video I made a little while back explaining how to organise your files and folders. Quite simply, I use parent and sub-folders to organise personal and work files. I use iCloud Drive to store things like invoices, receipts, spreadsheets, proposals I’m working on, contracts, NDA’s, brand and website assets, product videos, podcast recordings and other files. Basically, any file that I create on my computer (regardless of the format), if I want to keep it, it is stored in iCloud Drive.

Notes App » People often get confused about what goes in cloud storage vs. a notes app. If your cloud storage is like a digital filing cabinet, think of your notes app as a digital notebook. It’s the place where you can scribble down thoughts, brainstorm ideas, plan projects and journal.

There are loads of note apps to choose from e.g. Notion, OneNote, Evernote, Bear etc. Again, as I’m in the Apple ecosystem, I choose to use Apple Notes. Here’s a video I made about how I use Apple Notes to go paperless.

Rather than keeping a physical notebook on my desk, if I need to jot something down, I use Apple Notes. I have nothing against physical notebooks and if you prefer the tactility of a notebook, then use what works for you. I simply prefer the efficiency of a digital system.

Customer Relationship Management » If you run a client-facing business like me, you may benefit from using a CRM to manage your contacts and client notes.

CRMs like Pipedrive (affiliate link), Hubspot and SalesForce can help you to ditch the business cards and are useful for keeping a “digital paper trail” of your client interactions. In my business, Pipedrive is the tool I use to store all contact information, not just clients, but other professional contacts as well. I use it to write notes, track emails and record the activities I need to do related to a particular contact. This allows me to look back over the history of a contact to see when we last spoke and what it was about.

Accounting Software » If you’re not using a digital accounting tool and preferably a cloud solution like Xero or Quickbooks, you’re missing out.

After connecting my bank accounts and credit card to Xero, I can track all incoming payments and outgoing expenses related to my business. If I need to, I can attach a copy of an invoice or receipt to a transaction for my accountant to review (but personally I keep everything in iCloud Drive for quicker access). You can also use tools like Xero or Quickbooks to generate digital invoices and if you connect a payment gateway like Stripe, it makes collecting payments very quick and painless.

“Capture and trash” your paper

Once you’ve decided what tools you’re going to use to run your paperless business, maintaining a digital system is pretty easy really:

Automatically sort your files » Because most of the paperwork I receive is digital to begin with (e.g. receipts, invoices, contracts) I simply need to rename the file and store it in the appropriate folder in iCloud Drive. All receipts and contracts get named with ‘YYYY-MM-DD’ at the start of the filename followed by a descriptor (e.g. ‘2022-05-30 ConvertKit Invoice’) to make them easy to find later. It also helps to keep files organised in the correct order.

Because I receive the same types of files each month, e.g. receipts, I use a Mac app called Hazel to automatically rename and move the files for me. Here’s a video I made a little while back on how to get started with Hazel. And here’s a video explaining how I automate receipt management.

Scan using an app or printer » If I ever receive physical paper and I want to hang onto it, I use an app like SwiftScan to scan the file. SwiftScan makes scanning large documents very quick and easy. It auto-detects the edges of the paper so it can be cropped to look nice when finished. And it will perform optical character recognition (OCR) so the text on the paper can be digitised for easily searching within the file later on. This is one of the key benefits of going paperless to begin with! Plus you can connect your cloud storage tool of choice so you can easily move the file to your online storage when you’re done.

If you need to convert a lot of paper documents into digital form, you should consider getting a scanner to help process a higher volume of paper as this will be a lot quicker than using a phone. Unfortunately, I don't have any experience with scanners so encourage you to do your own research here.

Throw away the paper » Once you’ve finished scanning your paper, throw it away. It’s that easy! Of course, if there’s a good reason to keep the original, find a safe place to store it. But in my experience, there are very few documents that you need the original of.